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Crossing over to the right brain.

* AFTER LONG HOURS OF ANALYZING and arriving at reasonable conclusions, there's the next step--wrapping it up in a presentation. The data, the patterns, the generalizations--all to be summarized in a white paper, a PowerPoint show, or a presentation for the Web. And to be effective, the next step involves an area never dealt with in that wide undergraduate background in finance, calculus, and strategic planning: graphic design.

Graphic design is the discipline that supposedly engages the other side of your brain--the intuitive and visual side. It's like the analytic lobe's distant cousin that lives on the other side of the mountain; a place you can't even see from within the folds where project budgeting gets done.

If you're lucky, there's a business communication unit or art department in-house where you can hand over the numbers and analyses and let them style a presentation document that adds its own organization and impact.

If you're unlucky, you'll be working late looking at those same tired PowerPoint templates and trying to figure out why that pie chart jams all the text against one edge of the page whenever you try to print what you thought was the final version.

What you need in these circumstances is some crosstraining for the right side of your brain. Or is it the left side that's the creative, image-handling side? Whatever--the problem remains that you spent most of your academic life learning about balance, symmetry, and patterns in a numerical, not visual universe. Now you need to overlay another level of organization that uses images, colors, typography, and design.

Because most of us buy into the notion that the world is made up of analytical types and intuitive types, and we assume this is verified by the two different paths taken by the two hemispheres of our brains, we make wrong decisions.

Actually, applying the principles of good design is more a matter of good sense and rules than just sitting and waiting for insightful epiphanies. Like formulas, there are necessary balances. And just as there are categories for organizing data, principles such as proximity or keeping the similar close work equally well in a good design. But where can you learn this stuff along with the technical information like what a GIF is and why is it a suitable format for Web presentations?

Lynda.com

In June 2006, we looked at the training offerings at the www.lynda.com website. Maybe the best bargain in software and skills training online, there are hundreds of titles offered for $25 a month. And for that less than a dollar a day, you have access to every program they offer, including a new tutorial called "Graphic Secrets for Business Professionals." It's sort of a bad title because there's nothing secretive or mysterious about this crash course that covers basic design, PowerPoint, Apple's Keynote, using images in text documents, and two chapters (21 lessons) on Adobe's incredibly powerful and affordable PhotoShop Elements.

The four-hour, 11-chapter course begins with a section on the four basic principles of design: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast. Using business cards and single-page flyers for examples, Lesa Snider King begins with a few simple rules that you can fit on one side of a page and then keep in the top drawer of your desk or your laptop bag.

The principle of proximity requires that you use open space in the design to show what is related. Put what belongs together, together, and pay attention to how many places your eye stops to read a card, page, or image. The principle of alignment also creates visual connections, sometimes with nothing more than a hard edge in the design to line up similar items. By repeating a design element, whether it's a color, piece of a logo, or text style, you can create a feeling of overall cohesiveness. The examples King uses prove that the designing process is something that can be learned.

Of course, there's a lot of detailed, technical information about using the graphics programs like PowerPoint and Photoshop Elements--definitions, keystrokes, shortcuts, mistakes to avoid. But there's nothing stopping you from repeating any or all of the four-hour program in the month that you have access to "Graphic Secrets."

You probably won't remember all the steps needed to remove the background in a photo or how to colorize a black-and-white image, so it might not be a bad idea to get a small spiral notebook and just jot down the steps so you have a familiar version without having to go through the help screens in the program later. In few other areas is the old saw "use it or lose it" more true than in computer instruction. Maybe the greatest benefit of this preliminary look at the presentation programs is that you get a list of techniques that you might not have considered using before or might not have even been aware of.

Another advantage of the Lynda.com site is that your monthly tuition lets you try sections of the 30+ hours contained in the other four Photoshop Elements courses, the two PowerPoint courses (12 hours), or the two Apple Keynote courses (12 hours). Once you have a general introduction with the King course, you might want to take the longer tutorials for your versions of these programs.

You can get a sample of the "Graphic Secrets for Business Professionals" by going to the Lynda.com website. In the Subject drop-down list, look for "Business Applications," or just type the course name in the search bar on the top right. When the outline comes up for the course, you will notice that three of the four lessons in the Introduction and the lesson on Proximity are live links. You can try these lessons for free. The same is true of all the offerings. As you look over the outline for the courses, you can select from the underlined sample lessons and see if you like the approach and the instructor.

Taking the courses is a beginning. Applying the principles and techniques to your own printed matter and presentations will take time and effort, but the training will shorten the distance between your analytical side and the hemisphere that doesn't get exercised as often at work.

Michael Castelluccio, Editor
COPYRIGHT 2008 Institute of Management Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Tech Forum
Author:Castelluccio, Michael
Publication:Strategic Finance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:1045
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